Kids Media Matters

WGBH’s Resident Talking Dog Martha Helps Increase Children’s Vocabulary

By Kids Media Matters   |   Tuesday, June 21, 2011
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Three independent studies report that the highly rated WGBH and PBS KIDS series Martha Speaks is an effective tool across platforms (broadcast and mobile devices) in increasing young children’s vocabulary. The studies noted increases comparable to traditional classroom vocabulary instruction (such as reading out loud) for kids who viewed multiple episodes of the show, as well as gains of up to 31 percent in the vocabulary tested among low-income children who played with the Martha Speaks Dog Party iPhone app.

“We’re thrilled with the impressive impact the project is having on increasing young children’s vocabulary,” says Carol Greenwald, WGBH senior executive producer. “Vocabulary is critical to reading comprehension and a key predictor of reading success. By the time children enter kindergarten, however, a great chasm in vocabulary knowledge exists between disadvantaged kids and their peers—and the former never catch up. Across multiple platforms, Martha Speaks has been able to enhance kids’ knowledge of words through the context of a talking dog and great stories.”

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Play The High School Quiz Show Online Game

Thursday, February 17, 2011
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Amy Mascott Reveals The Secret to Teach Mama

Friday, February 4, 2011
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Amy Mascott is the creator of teach mama, a site that empowers parents to take a stronger role in supporting their children’s learning. 

Before starting teach mama, Amy designed we teacha forum for parents and teachers to connect, share ideas, and grow into better educators—no matter the classroom. We teach has grown quickly into one of the most successful and highly-trafficked educational forums on the web. 

A Reading Specialist, Literacy Consultant, freelance writer, and mom to a crazy-cool 7, 5, and 4-year-old, Amy’s work has been featured on dozens of online and print publications. She has designed the literacy programs for several local schools, and she assesses and tutors students on a regular basis.

Amy does social media consulting for a number of educational companies and has handed over many teaching tools to parents during speaking engagements, most recently at BlogHer ‘10.  You can find her on Twitter or on Facebook, chatting it up about education, parenting, and just about anything.

Tell us about your background and how you started blogging?
 
As a former high school English teacher and currently a Reading Specialist and Literacy Consultant, when I had my first child seven years ago, it was natural for me to be in awe of every step she took, every little thing she learned.  So after I had my next two children, sneaking in some sort of learning for them became my daily focus; through games and play, we covered colors, letters, numbers, writing, and early literacy concepts, fine and gross motor skills, science, and social learning.  
 
Soon my friends started calling, using up my only break of the day (my the kids’ naptime) with requests for ideas: What could they do to help their daughter learn her ABC’s?  How should they start teaching their son to write? What book would I recommend they read about developing early literacy skills? What do kids need to know before preschool or kindergarten? And so teachmama.com was born out of a desire to simply to share information with my friends about what they should be doing with their little ones to help build a solid foundation for learning. It has been a labor of love, but writing teachmama  has opened up doors for me that I never would have imagined; the freelancing opportunities, consulting, networking, and relationships that have resulted continue to amaze and inspire me.  
 
I’m also a huge, nerdy research-reader; I love staying on top of the latest findings in early childhood education, in literacy, and reading.  So having three young children to actually practice the latest findings on—and a blog to share what I’ve done--has been incredibly exciting and rewarding for us all. 

What did you watch as a kid?
 
My three sisters and I watched Sesame Street—that’s one of the first shows I remember—and I literally jump up and down when my kids are watching the show and I see an old skit from Sesame of my time.  I love it.  I remember watching a lot of Sesame Street, Electric Company, Mr. Rogers, Reading Rainbow, The Magic Garden, and Romper Room.  And we rocked out to the New Mickey Mouse Club and Kids Incorporated.  Boy, we must have been in front of telly quite often, now that I think about it. . .

You’re a mom of three.  What do you look for in tv programming for your kids? What would you like to see in children’s programming in the future?
 
As far as programming for my children is concerned, I am very picky about what they watch, and I think that all parents should be; for every great show out there, there are a handful of really lousy ones.   (Kate, don’t include that last part if you think I sound like a total brat!—but it’s true!)  I personally look for shows that have some educational component, whether it be literacy, math, science, language, or social skills. I also look for a diverse mix of programming that is entertaining and engaging, with solid storylines and characters who use the type of language and behavior I’d like for my own children to use.   We only allow one 30-minute show per day; each day a different child gets to choose his or her show from several we record regularly, so that show better be strong in order to make the Mascott family recording list!
 
In the future, I would love to continue to see programming that employs the components I mentioned—shows that are educational, engaging, exciting.  I hope that high-quality programs of this nature are produced for not only a younger audience but a middle school and teen viewership as well.  We don’t do much evening viewing at this point in time, but I imagine once the kids are older, we’ll sit down as a family after homework is completed and watch something together. Hopefully we’ll be able to find some family-friendly, high-quality programming that sparks thought, consideration, and conversation.

As a former educator, how do you try to incorporate learning in your children’s lives outside of school?

We practice a ‘lifestyle of learning’ in our house; every day offers some sort of learning opportunity, and we try to capitalize on that at every chance we can.  And if the day doesn’t lend itself to something naturally, then we do something at some point, whether it be before rest time, during the afternoon, or before bed.  We play games that involve letters, numbers, writing, and reading; we do activities that involve fine and gross motor work, communication and social skills, or pretending.   Some days, our learning is during a read-aloud, and that works, too.

As a reading specialist, what are some of the ways we can encourage our children to read regularly and have a love of words? What were some of your favorite books as a kid?

Parents can develop a love of reading and an appreciation of words and language in their children in a number of ways, none of which involve an excessive amount of work, prep, or effort! Simply reading to children each day—several times a day—from the time children are infants is a start.  Singing, reciting nursery rhymes, or poems is an effortless way of having little ones develop an ‘ear’ for our language.  As children get older, talking about words we personally love because they sound beautiful or we like the way our mouth feels when we say them, helps children to develop Word Consciousness, or an awareness of words. Reading as a family, having children understand that reading is for both leisure and to gain information, and that reading is a part of our every day, all day, is imperative for every family. And continuing these practices through preschool and elementary years—up through high school—is more important than many parents realize.
 
I loved the Ramona series as a child, I loved Charlotte’s Web, and I loved Anne of Green Gables. I loved the poetry of Shel Silverstein, the photography of the Golden Books’ The Little Animal series, the illustrations of Gyo Fujikawa, and the consistency of the Berenstain Bears books.
 
What advice would you give to today’s parents of young kids?
 
I’d love to emphasize to parents of young children the importance of a parent’s role in his or her child’s education.  We teach our babies to eat, talk, and sleep; we teach our toddlers to walk, get out of diapers, and get dressed, so there’s absolutely no reason that parents should take a back seat when it comes to the next chapter--teaching children their ABC’s and 123’s.  
 
If parents move into a teaching role from the beginning and keep it a constant, the homework battles won’t take place once elementary school hits because the child will have a firm understanding that Mom and Dad help with homework because they are teachers, too.
 

How Photography Informs Game Making for PBS Kids

Thursday, March 14, 2013
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WGBH Senior Executive Producer Bill Shribman shares some insight with the TedX audience on how his passion for photography influences the games he and his team design for public media. 

Wild Kratts: Lost at Sea

Wednesday, January 9, 2013
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Curious George: Toot Toot Tootsie Goodbye

Wednesday, January 9, 2013
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Every time children watch TV or surf the Web, they are learning something. But what are they learning? Grown-ups need to shepherd children through the maze of images that may shape their minds, for better or worse.



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